I watched a program last night, episode four, in a series called Life on the Line; The Lasting Impact. This episode was about Wilber “Wil” Alexander who has “sat at the bedside of the sick and the dying for the last 40 years, inviting the wounded to tell their stories. This story follows Wil as he uniquely cares for sick, wounded, and terminal patients by walking alongside them and aiding in their search for meaning and healing in their time of unique vulnerability.
The availability and affordability of healthcare is on the minds of many of us right now. I have been exceedingly lucky that, other than the occasional bug, I haven’t experienced any serious health issues. I battle with high blood pressure and cholesterol, but for people my age that is pretty common. My wife is healthy, my kids are healthy, my parents are dealing with issues that 78-year-old people deal with but for the most part, health wise, we have been blessed.
I am fortunate to have good health insurance through my wife’s employer. When I owned my own business and my wife worked part-time my monthly health insurance premiums cost me dearly but seemingly covered very little. When I would relay this to my insurance broker his response was always the same; “Yea but if anything serious ever happens to you or someone in your family…..”. It was always about the “if” and never about the prevention of the “if”. We were on our own when it came to preventing the “if”.
I have a wonderful family doctor. He is kind, caring and very compassionate and increasingly more difficult to get an appointment with which means if I am sick and really need to see someone I end up with one of the younger doctors in the practice. There is a noticeable “bedside manner” difference between my regular doc and these new young ones. At first I simply chalked it up to them not knowing me, and honestly I really don’t go very often. But after a couple of visits over the last few years I realized that these doctors don’t want to get to know me. They prefer keeping things at arm’s length. I get the sense that their approach is this is a business, 8 am to 5 pm with an hour for lunch. They are employees, simply working for the big hospital as all doctors seem to be now.
Now, it may appear that I am being critical of these new, young doctors. Maybe, just a little. But I also understand the concept of having a life beyond your vocation and in order to do that there must be a certain amount of detachment. My father-in-law was a physician for forty years in private practice. When my wife and I first started dating I was not entirely convinced she even had a father because on my first three visits I never saw the man. He was out the door before I woke-up and came home after I had gone to bed. There were signs that he existed but that was about it. He is and was, as a practicing physician, a caring, compassionate and empathic individual and I know that wore him down. When he made the decision to retire he never looked back and the relief on his face was palatable. He is the rare individual that could combine knowledge with genuine care, treat the person rather than just the disease.
Dr. Alexander died last November but not before he trained a whole batch of new doctors to listen, to touch, and to understand that they may not be able to save us all but they can treat everyone as a human being with compassion and care. We are our stories, we are our hopes and our dreams the things that make us want to heal and hold-on and those are the things that will never show up on an MRI, you have to ask and be willing to listen.